Soto shows she's tough

Brenda Soto desperately wants to win the Orange Coast League in girls' basketball.

Her body doesn't always seem to share the same sentiment.

Soto's right shoulder is in a black brace. Sometimes it pops out of place.

That's OK, Soto tells herself, ignore the pain. Just pull your arm out until it pops back in.

The shoulder brace straps across her chest. Sometimes that makes it hard for the Estancia High senior guard to breathe.

That's OK, Soto tells herself, just come out of the game for a second before it's back to the races.

Soto has a torn labrum and has dislocated her shoulder several times since the summer. Early in the season, Co-Coach Xavier Castellano told her it might be best to sit out until league play began.

"She wasn't having none of that," Castellano said. "She's a gamer."

Soto hears concern from all directions. Her mother, Maria, doesn't like seeing her daughter suffer on the court. Her older sister by a year, Erika, tells Brenda to be careful after Erika herself played through a torn meniscus the last two years.

So that's coach, mom and sister who worry about that shoulder.

"Maybe I should listen," Brenda Soto said, knowing she's a three-year varsity starter who can't bear being out of the game. "I feel like [my teammates] are using so much energy, and I'm not doing anything. That's how I always feel [on the bench]. I have to keep playing and playing."

The Eagles (18-6, 8-0 in league) all want to put a "2011" on that championship banner in the gym. They're already clinched at least a share of their first league title in eight years, and they can win it outright at Saddleback on Monday.

They're also a better team when their top defender Soto, all 5-foot-4 of her, is on the floor. She's fifth on the team at 4.9 points per game, but she's always in the passing lanes and always diving on the floor for a steal. In the team's first six league games, she averaged seven steals a game before dislocating her shoulder again Tuesday at Laguna Beach.

It first happened during summer league play, then again in a scrimmage just before the season. Her doctor told her surgery would repair it, but to Soto that wasn't an option her senior year. So she and Castellano looked online and she bought the $140 shoulder brace. Before games, Soto's junior teammate, Alicia Marquez, helps her put it on.

She dislocated the shoulder again Dec. 28 against Rosary, but Soto shrugged it off and popped it back in herself — then asked to go back in the game. Eyes bulged on the Estancia sideline.

"I was like, 'Wow,'" Castellano said. "I told her, 'B, you know this is just a game right?' But she's been good ever since. She's a tough kid."

Soto has even proved resourceful. Now she dribbles and shoots with her left hand. Which hand isn't important, but Soto's instincts are as she listens to Co-Coach Judd Fryslie on the bench.

"When he's sitting there, I easily hear him," Soto said. "He's like, 'Go, go, go!' or he says something and I listen. I've learned how to get there before the ball gets there, and that helps a lot. Coach Fryslie's an awesome coach."

Soto is one of three seniors — Yesenia Maldonado and last year's Newport-Mesa Player of the Year Kassie Stratton being the others — who have been on varsity since their freshman year. The next year, Jenny Boldizar and Vanessa Stafford joined the team.

"That was a big change for us," Soto said. "Since we were [on] varsity already, we thought we were all that. But we accepted each other."

Accepting the shoulder injury has been more difficult. Soto definitely strives to make her mother and father, Maria and Jose, proud, as they watch in the stands. Erika is still around too, although she can't make Tuesday games as she has meetings with the Costa Mesa Police Department police explorers.

Brenda Soto said she's always been "super-close" with her older sister who was another cornerstone of the Eagles' defense. They've been playing together since they were in fifth and sixth grade, respectively, at St. John the Baptist Catholic school in Costa Mesa.

"When she is here, I try to impress her," Brenda Soto said. "She's my bigger sister and she's always been the athletic girl."

The younger Soto never lacks motivation. She's likely going to Orange Coast College next year and she wants to end up as a social worker or psychologist.

On the court, the whole team wants it bad. Estancia has won 10 straight games and is ranked No. 11 in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A coaches' poll, the highest the Eagles have been all season.

"Not having a banner and losing it last year to Godinez, everyone was in tears," Soto said. "We really want it. It's our senior year. We want to come back here and be like, 'That's mine.'

"[Castellano] always says, 'Do you think your school respects you guys? You guys are just girls' basketball. They always say congratulations to the boys' basketball team in the [school] announcements, but do you hear congratulations girls, too?'

"He always makes that a big deal, [for us to] earn that respect. We even have a better record than the guys. We should get a little respect for that."

Soto has earned that respect from her teammates. She didn't play in Thursday's win over Calvary Chapel; Castellano said he hopes to get her back for the last week of the regular season.

He doesn't need to ask her if she wants to play. He already knows the answer to that question.

"I know my shoulder jeopardizes every game I play," Soto said. "That sucks, because it's my senior year and we only have [two] games to go. [Tuesday] I felt like it was fine."


"Well, kind of," she said. "Not really, but I didn't want to let down my team. That's how we all are."


Brenda Soto

Born: July 26, 1993

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5-foot-4

Sport: Basketball

Coaches: Xavier Castellano and Judd Fryslie

Favorite food: Enchilladas

Favorite movie: "The Notebook"

Favorite athletic moment: Winning the bell back from Costa Mesa after helping Estancia beat the Mustangs twice in 2009.

Week in review: Soto had nine points and eight assists as the Eagles took first place outright in league after beating Costa Mesa, 61-34, on Jan. 27. She then had a season-high 10 points, nine rebounds and seven steals in a 58-37 victory over Godinez two days later.

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